Meet Culinary Creative – The Tastemakers Behind Denver’s Coolest New Restaurants

While Denver has not been suffering any kind of shortage of excellent, chef-driven concepts, no single group has been commanding the scene quite like Culinary Creative. The multifaceted organization helmed by Juan Padro, Katie O’Shea and Max MacKissock had its biggest year to date, opening multiple concepts under its own umbrella and consulting on several more both in and out of state. The tail end of 2018 saw the opening of Morin and Ash’Kara, with Mister Oso joining the family in November of this year. Additionally, the group acted as consulting partners for the wildly popular Maine Shack, Aspen’s 7908 and Sofia in New Orleans.

“2019 was the most work, the most lessons learned,” said Padro. Since starting in 2016 the group has become an influential player in the city’s dining scene, both through its own policy of recognizing and grooming talent and by inspiring the community at large with a continued dedication to refinement and remarkable cuisine.

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The company’s versatility comes from its many moving parts. The overarching investment group Mothership, LLC is set up to allow Padro to steward investors’ cash both to Culinary Creative and his original conglomerate Tap and Burger Concepts. While all three are interconnected, Culinary Creative acts independently, covering conceptual development, financial and operational management, the running of restaurants, events and catering. While the practical layout is dynamic, Padro, MacKissock and O’Shea play to their strengths. Padro primarily commands executive duties, O’Shea handles the financials and MacKissock covers the food — developing menus, training staff and running Morin. The chef spent two months in New Orleans at the beginning of the year setting up Sofia — an upscale Italian concept by Billy Blatty, son of the screenwriter who wrote The Exorcist. While consulting certainly plays a major role in the group’s business, developing avenues for in-house success seems to be where the passion really lies. “We love taking our people and promoting them and giving them their own thing,” said MacKissock. Carrie Baird at Bar Dough, Blake Edmunds with Señor Bear and Mister Oso and Daniel Asher’s Ash’Kara all serve as good examples of the group’s ideal in action.

The idea for Culinary Creative began as a joke. MacKissock had recently left The Squeaky Bean and was working a one-off dinner at Old Major with O’Shea and Padro — who at the time held a stake in the LoHi ode to all things carnivore. MacKissock made an off-hand crack about opening a restaurant, “20 minutes later Juan came back and was like, are you serious?” said the chef. From there Bar Dough was born. As the Italian restaurant quickly made a splash on the scene, new opportunities kept coming up. Culinary Creative was developed out of necessity, convenience and a mutual love for working with one another.

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Even with all the new openings and time dedicated to advising, the group always finds creative ways to participate in a range of events. It catered the VIP area at the ill-fated Grandoozy, held a Morin pop-up in New Orleans and participated in a huge amount of non-profit work including hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. For five years running, it has catered the Chairman’s Club and the Summit Club for the Colorado Rapids. Each year it participates in the city’s biggest food competitions including Top Taco, Burger Battle, Chicken Fight and this year’s Wedding Party.

Padro cites his time spent as a headhunter in tech for his ability to accurately recognize potential. Employees are expected to have emotional intelligence, intellectual curiosity and empathy. While Padro rightly credits the unceasing hard work of all the members of the team for its widespread success, much of the magic comes from a synergy that makes the output greater than the sum of its parts. “I challenge you coast to coast to find a restaurant group with more chef talent,” said Padro. “The best is yet to come for Denver,” he continued.